Communications Across the Generations – Texting

By Sylvia Henderson. © All rights reserved.

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The Hart and the Hunter

The Hart was once drinking from a pool and admiring the noble figure he made there. “Ah,” said he, “where can you see such noble horns as these, with such antlers! But I wish I had legs more worthy to bear such a noble crown. It’s a pity these legs are so slim and slight.” At that moment a Hunter approached and sent an arrow whistling after him. Away bounded the Hart, and soon, by the aid of his nimble legs, was nearly out of sight of the Hunter. But not noticing where he was going, the Hart passed under some trees with branches growing low in which his antlers got caught so that the Hunter had time to catch up. “Alas! alas!” cried the entangled Hart. “We often despise what is most useful to us.”

(From: Aesop’s Fables. Public domain text.)

We often despise what is most useful to us. What comes to mind, among several things, is how multiple generations view modes of communication, especially with each other. From time immemorial youth and adults have chosen ways to communicate that confound the other. The nature of youth is to communicate with each other in ways that shut out adults. The nature of adults is to “teach those young folk to ‘communicate correctly’ so that we can understand them” because surely, we adults know best. The reality is that each generation is exposed to different technologies and that which is common to one generation becomes obsolete to the next. Each generation adapts the communications technologies and modes with which they matured, which infers that they are the technologies and modes with which each generation is most comfortable.

Why should one generation change for the other? Why should one generation try to communicate in ways that are uncomfortable for themselves in order to accommodate the other generation for whom those very ways are “unnatural”? Why not make the others adjust in reverse?

Are these questions familiar to you? Are you the younger generation or the older one? With whom are you trying to communicate? Are you frustrated with the ineffectiveness of your communications? Is it you or is it “them”? Does it matter as long as communications remain ineffective? How can you adjust your communications so that others receive your messages more effectively? How can you “hear” others more effectively?

First and foremost, know that you can seldom change other people; you must take responsibility for yourself and make your own adjustments in attitude, knowledge, and actions.

Next, consider the current workplace and school environments. As of this writing it is the second decade of the 21st century. (Reference: The generation of people born after 1985 are in school, have graduated, are in the workplace, and are advancing to leadership positions. This generation was born into a world of portable computing and communications made available to “every household”. Portable communications consist of cell phones and portable (or personal) digital devices, laptop and tablet computers, instant text-based messaging, easy access to video and audio technology, and more. The “natural” modes of communication in their personal lives carry into their school and workplace environments. They communicate effectively with each other and wonder why they must adapt to generations for whom such communications modes are difficult to practice. Why adapt? After all, the rules change as the new normal takes over. The answer: because if you are of this generation, you must work for, learn from, get work done by, be hired and evaluated by, team with, serve, earn your living and profit from, volunteer with, and possibly care for people older than you who communicate using different modes and technologies from those with which you are comfortable.

The generation of people born prior to 1985 are currently well-established in the workplace or retired. They are decision-makers, owners, teachers and professors, executives, supervisors, presidents, parents and grandparents, and many other categories of “experienced”. For the sake of this article, “this generation” includes people born into technologies from the telegraph to desktop personal computers. Communicating on paper, by telephone, and by e-mail are the comfortable modes for this generation. They either reject, or find difficult to regularly practice, methods of communication that are common for those born after 1985. Why adapt? After all, they were in the world first. The answer: because if you are of this generation, you must work for, learn from, get work done by, be hired and evaluated by, team with, serve, earn your living and profit from, volunteer with, and possibly still care for people younger than you who communicate using different modes and technologies from those with which you are comfortable.

Wait a minute! The answer to “Why adapt?” is the same for both generations. How can this be, and what do we do about it? The answer to the first part of the question is obvious as we look at multiple generations because there are multiple generations co-existing in school and in the workplace. The answer to the second part of the question is also obvious, yet difficult to accept and act on. The obvious part is that each generation must adapt to the other in order to communicate effectively with each other. Each needs the other in order to learn, live, and thrive. We achieve the difficult to accept and act on part by practicing the following five actions.

In the book Txtversations – How Old Farts Must Communicate With Young Whipper-Snappers More Effectively, and Vice Versa (So We Can Get On With Life & Get Things Accomplished), ISBN #1-932197-31-1, available at and, author Sylvia Henderson identifies the following five actions that help multiple generations communicate more effectively with each other.

  • Identify the communications platform(s) most comfortable to your target audience and seek to understand why they are most comfortable with their platform. Did they grow up using the technology with which they are most comfortable? Are there physical considerations that facilitate their use of certain communications platforms?
  • Determine the purpose of your communication. Is it personal? Private? Do you need to broadcast your communications to the widest possible audience? Is a formal, professional mode required for the specific message? Is turn-around response time crucial to continued communication or further action? Can you use an alternative form of communication to accomplish the same objective? Your answers to these questions help you determine whether to communicate by texting or by telephone (or other platform).
  • Adjust your attitude from “I reject even considering a communications platform that is different from that with which I am most comfortable” to “I am open to considering—and learning to be competent with—alternative communications platforms”. The platforms may be older technology or newer technology depending on your target audience.
  • Learn about and become competent with multiple communications platforms. The same advice may be said of languages in an international society. Note that competence and expertise are two different skill sets. Being a competent texter (person who can communicate via text messaging) is akin to being a competent keyboarder—you might be a hunt-and-peck typist using your index finger (or your thumb on a tiny smart phone keypad). You know how to use the device and can use it to communicate, yet you choose not to build your skill level to expertise status nor do you need to in order to communicate effectively.
  • Use the appropriate communications platform for the situation. When you need to reach someone immediately to receive an immediate response from them, are they most likely to have their cell phone “on” and available, or will you have a better chance of reaching them immediately by calling them on their land-line phone or instant-messaging them through their open e-mail account? When you communicate your job qualifications to a corporate decision-maker are you more likely to get positive results from texting an abbreviated message or sending a printed paper document by mail?